The Third District, Part One

The Howard Committee

The Howard Committee

Not every polling place can come with an exciting and horrifying story of stolen democracy. After two districts of fireworks (The First, parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 and Second, parts 1, 2, 3) the Howard Committee’s report on the Third District of Kansas comes off a bit dry. The Missourians arrived, armed to fight the Mexican War all over again, in both a contingent of two hundred dispatched from Lawrence and one that came directly to the polls at Tecumseh. They amounted to three to four hundred men crowding about the polls.

They said they came to vote and whip the damned Yankees, and would vote without being sworn. Some said they came to have a fight, and wanted one.

The Howard Report cites the testimony of Lewis O. Wilmarth on the last point:

I talked with quite a number of the crowd, and they said they had come here to whip the damned Yankees; but they were afraid the Yankeess were playing them rather a Yankee trick in not voting. Several them said they came purposely to fight, and they wanted to get into a row. One man remarked, if he could get the boys to joinwith him, he would go up to Topeka and wipe the people into the river; that he was good for half a dozen. They were all armed with guns, pistols, and clubs, which they brandished around very much, rushing to that corner of the yard where there seemed to be any excitement.

But Wilmarth adds:

I saw no violence offered to any one who desired and offered to vote, though I heard a great many threats.

It bears repeating that credible threats alone, especially in large numbers, can do much to deter voters even short of violence. One must approach the polls wondering if any of the hundreds of people armed to the teeth and swearing violence against you might mean it. People in crowds like that often find themselves worked up into doing things they would never do alone.

The lack of violence, especially in light of the Missourians apparently spoiling for it, bears some examination.  For whatever reason, Andrew Reeder’s careful stacking of the election panels with two free state men to one proslavery man did not hold in Tecumseh. The Third District had two proslavery judges of election to one free state judge. Maybe he thought the district an unlikely one for the Missourians to jump. Maybe he wrote it off as a loss in exchange for securing other districts more vulnerable. Maybe he mistook the men he appointed and thought he had two free staters on the panel. In any event, he ended up with just the Reverend Henry B. Burgess committed to the election’s integrity.

Andrew Horatio Reeder

Andrew Horatio Reeder

Burgess arrived at the house of Thomas Stinson ahead of the other judges and waited around for a while before seeking them out. He found them in conversation with some other men. Burgess doesn’t call them Missourians, but they were off with the two proslavery judges in an otherwise empty section of a yard. He walked up to introduce himself and overheard some suspicious dialog:

“We understand it.” One of the gentlemen-I do not know whether it was the other judge or one of the company there-said. “The thing is perfectly understood.”

They went off into the house and Stinson asked that people clear the room for the judges.

There was something like an attempt to clear the room, and, after turning out some of my friends, I think the outside door was then locked. The inside door, opening into another room, remained so that it could be passed, and the room remained as full as before.

That promising start led into the judges suggesting they elect clerks…and it so happened that the proslavery judges had a few friends here that could help. Burgess objected on the grounds that their instructions gave them no power to choose clerks, but the panel set the matter aside to address more important issues.

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